watchOS 7 for Apple Watch — Explained! (WWDC 2020)

watchOS7 works on the 2017 Apple Watch Series 3, which, importantly, was re-released in 2019 for just $199, as well as the Apple Watch Series 4 and Series 5.

So, yeah, the 2016 Apple Watch Series 1 and Series 2 — watches with the S2 and its S1P variant systems-in-package — which were released with watchOS 3, are no longer being supported.

And, of course, not every watchOS 7 features, for example the wide screen watch faces, will be supported on the older, smaller design of the Series 3. But, all the base stuff and security updates at the very least.

iOS 14 and watchOS 7

watchOS 7 is getting a bunch of features that are also coming to iOS 14. Since I already did a whole video on that — seriously, hit subscribe, everything is connected! — I don’t want to recapitulate it all here.

But, it includes cycling directions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Beijing, and Shanghai, which offer you a bunch of options so you can choose between the quickest but maybe a more difficult route, like in streets rather than bike paths, or with stairs, or much steeper inclines, or easier but maybe longer routes.

They’re made especially big and easy to read on the Watch, and you can search along the way for bike shops, restrooms, and more.

Dictation is also going on-device, for Apple Watch’s with neural engines, and starting with U.S. English with other languages to follow.

Translation is also going to be offered in 10 language pairs to start, and the Siri Shortcuts app is coming to Apple Watch and can even be added as complications.

Can I get a finally?

watchOS 7 Sleep

Year after year, Apple scratches things off my Apple Watch wish list. On-board LTE, edge-edge display, on-device App Store, always-on-display, and this year it’s sleep tracking.

And it’s both better and worse than I imagined. Let me explain.

I originally wondered if Apple was going to restrict it to new hardware, like always-on-display. A new watch with a special low-power and sensor combination that just made it just work.

But they didn’t. Sleep tracking is coming to existing Apple Watch owners, which is great.

When you go into Sleep Mode, you also go into Do Not Disturb, so you won’t get beeped or buzzed, and the screen Sleep Locks, so it won’t brighten up if you raise your wrist unintentionally. If you do want to see date, time, or alarm settings, though, you can still tap it or press the crown.

It all integrates with the existing iOS Bedtime feature, but it’s smart enough to realize if you’re moving around, you probably aren’t ready for bed yet.

Also, if there’s less than a 30% charge on your watch, you’ll get a notification so you can top it up while you’re getting ready for bed.

To help, there’s Wind Down, which can play sound scapes, run mediation or journaling apps, set Home scenes, and otherwise help you get ready for bed.

To help you wake up, the Bedtime system sounds and, optionally, the Taptic Engine, jump in. Then, you get a good morning screen similar to what Bedtime has been providing on the iPhone for a while.

If you wake up within half an hour of your bedtime window, you’ll be prompted to shut off the alarm so it doesn’t bug you later.

The Watch’s wake up screen also shows you its current charge level, so you can top it up while you’re doing your daily ablutions. When it’s charged, it’ll ping your iPhone so you don’t forget and leave it on the charger.

You can see your sleep stats, daily and over time, which includes the hours in bed and actually asleep, and heart rate summaries.

Won’t you don’t get is any breakdown of the kind of sleep, like light, deep, and REM, that other sleep trackers provide.

Now, it’s possible Apple doesn’t want to step too heavily on the toes of those other sleep trackers. Which wouldn’t be usual. Quote-unquote sherlocking, which means building previously third-party features into the operating system, is still controversial, so Apple will often err on the side of providing base functionality and leave the more advanced stuff to the third parties.

Or, it could be philosophical, or it could just represent what Apple’s providing to existing watches now, and future software and hardware updates may offer even more functionality.

Personally, I’m caught in the middle where I like some of the functionality of both approaches, so we’ll see how that works out when this all goes into release.

watchOS 7 Handwashing

We live in the age of the pandemic where it’s so hard to get your average North American to stay home, wash their hands, and wear a mask that, as several other places around the world see their infection and death rates plummet, some of ours continue to soar.

With that as a backdrop, Apple’s adding an Apple Watch feature that they probably hadn’t even considered more than a few months ago — hand washing.

It’ll automatically detect when you start washing your hands, based on your movement and the sounds of soap and water and give you a 20-second timer so you don’t have to sing happy birthday twice. Then Taptic you when you’re done.

Thanks to location awareness, it will also remind you to wash your hands when you get home, and you can check in the Health app to see how often and for how long you’ve been washing up.

Apple’s doing a lot more with sound recognition in general. Something I forgot to mention is the iOS video is that you can now set up Accessibility to recognize alarms, pets, appliances, running water, crying, and screaming, and alert you. Whether you’re low or no hearing or just tend not to notice when you leave the tap going. It’s on-device, so it’s private, and it’s just terrific stuff.

Also for your own ears. Hearing Health will now report your weekly dose of headphone sound intensity and notify you if you go over safe limits.

Also, you’ll have the the option of limiting loud sounds to anywhere from 75 to 100 decibels, protect your hearing.

watchOS 7 Face Sharing

There are also always new watch faces. Because watch. This year, that’s chronograph pro which sports a tachymeter and can compute speed based on travel time and measure distance based on speed.

X-Large has also been updated with an X-Large complication for people with low vision or massive desire for total watch dominance.

Plus, the Photos face now has dozens of color filters that you can apply to better match your band or your mood.

I still wish Photos had much better, richer complication support, though. Not just because I want a proper Superman watch so bad, but because I legit think it would remove a ton of tension from the custom watch face crowd.

My favorite new watch feature this year though, by far, is Face Sharing.

So, if you make just a perfect travel or workout or hiking or biking or weekend or, sure, brunch face, and your friend wants it, you can just send it right over.

From the iPhone, just go to your watch face gallery, choose the face, hit share, pick a contact, and message, airdrop, or mail it on over.

From the Apple Watch, just long press on the face you want to share, tap the share icon, select the contact, and it’ll message away.

And, yeah, I said long press. Just like Apple has gone away from 3D Touch on the iPhone, they’re now going away from Force Touch on the Apple Watch as well.

I don’t know if I’m change adverse or I just hate the idea, but going deep always felt like the natural expression of Fitz’s law on multitouch. Wikipedia it. Also, a great way to extend functionality when you couldn’t go wide. But, now it’s just going away, not even replaced with Haptic Touch but with overt menu options.

Here’s hoping those will actually end up being even more discoverable to even more people, and 6 months from now I’ll barely remember Force Touch was a thing.

Which, if Apple adds better machine learning to Haptic Touch, I may be able to do with 3D Touch as well. But I digress.

Now, if one of you has a Series 3 and the other a Series 4 or 5, some translation will have to happen due to the difference in the displays. Also, if the face uses third party complications from an app, they’ll be prompted to download them as well.

The App Store will also be posting curated watch faces to go with apps and themes, which is great. Especially because apps can now offer multiple complications, so you can have a full on Fantastical or Carrot Weather watch, if those fine folks choose to make it so.

And, watch faces can be offered online as well, both on the web and via social, so companies — sorry, we call them all brands now, right? — you, mean, anyone at all can share our faves

watchOS 7 Workouts

A watchOS update just wouldn’t be a watchOS update if it didn’t have new workout types.

This year that’s dance, specially latin, Bollywood, hip hop, and cardio dance. It uses sensor fusion to figure out the asynchronous arm and leg movements, so you get credit for every single one of your unce, unce, unce hot steps.

There’s also functional strength training, for every day activities like family sports, carrying things around the house — basically the work from home workout from home stuff.

Core training, and cool down.

Still no snow shoveling or Taiji though. Maybe next year!

Also, Activity is now Fitness, because the scope of what you can do is just so far beyond closing rings now. It’s also been redesigned on the iPhone to improve the information density and glaceability of your data.

watchOS 7 also provides mobility metrics for functional capacity, which uses the Watch’s motion sensors and algorithms to measure low range acid fitness, walking speed, stair speed, and in combination with iOS 14 on the iPhone, step length, double support time, and asymmetry measurements. This, apparently, is stuff that required medical labs in the past and is once again an example of why Apple says their biggest contribution to society will one day be measured by health features, and why I keep saying the Watch is the most important product Apple has ever made. Because it saves lives. Deliberately. By design.

You’ll be able to check all of that out the health app, and medical professionals can build for it with new HealthKit features.

watchOS 7 and You

watchOS 7 is currently in developer beta and will go into public beta in July ahead of a fall release.